ONE is embarking on a listening and learning trip to Senegal, Ghana, Mozambique and Kenya with members of our board and other supporters. Christy Turlington Burns checks in:
I met an inspiring woman a few days ago in Accra, Ghana. Her name was Elizabeth*. She is a mother, a widow and she is HIV positive. This may sound pretty grim, but what I learned from spending some time with her is that Elizabeth and her two-year-old daughter Abigail* are getting the care they need here at the Tema General Hospital.
Elizabeth learned about her HIV positive status when she came here to be tested after her husband died a few years ago. She was pregnant at the time, which was actually a blessing, because it enabled her to begin antiretroviral treatment at a critical time for Abigail. Abigail takes a prophylactic drug to prevent infection of the AIDS virus.
I also spent some time with the nurses here who counsel the families who come into the clinic from up to a 15 kilometer radius to be tested. They shared other stories like Elizabeth’s, where women sought them out to be tested and then treated if their results were positive. When mothers have access to ARVs, they use them. And when they use them the chances of vertical transmission (when the virus travels inadvertently from the pregnant mother to her child) are minimal. At Tema, a mere 4% of babies whose mothers have begun treatment test positive. I was told that just a few years ago things were not nearly as hopeful.
Before the Global Fund and (RED) started distributing money to treat and prevent AIDS, there was very little incentive for the poor in Ghana to test because having HIV was a virtual death sentence.
Dr. Patricia Nsamoah, a senior medical officer and HIV focal person at TEMA, told us about the state of the clinic before they received Global Fund (RED) money.
“We’ve been testing HIV for a very long time, but basically people just didn’t know what to do if they tested positive for HIV,” Dr. Nsamoah said. “So when ARVs came, the Global Fund made it possible for us to have access to ARVs. You can at least see a patient, treat opportunistic infections, test for CD4, and at the point when they need the ARVs it is available and you can have a success story. Previously if you were working in the fever unit as the doctor in charge, what you did at the beginning of every morning was to sign death certificates because overnight by the time you came people had just died. But now a lot has changed… I’m telling you the clinic just grows bigger because people do not die.”
Today, Tema serves more than 2,200 people infected with HIV/AIDS in Ghana. These families are thriving and they are hopeful despite all they have endured. Abigail is a beautiful, curious little girl. She is confident with wise eyes that have seen the future.
*Elizabeth and Abigail’s names have been changed to protect their privacy.